Potatoes | Emily Fon-Kats

Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

My great grandpa is 98 years old and is a World War II veteran. He fought in the war from 1941 to 1945 with the Ukrainian army. He was 17 years old when the war started. He has told me a lot of stories about his war experience as well as different post-war stories. There is one story in particular that has stuck in my mind.

This happened during the 1980s in Ukraine, where my great grandpa is originally from. He went to an outside food market to buy fruits and vegetables for his family. Once he got there, he went to the vegetable section and saw they were selling potatoes. There was a woman working there, and he asked her what the price of those potatoes were and what region of Ukraine they were from. She told him the price and said the potatoes were from the region of Cherkas. He asked her to be more specific about the area the potatoes were from, and she replied with the name of the village.

In that same exact village years earlier during the war, my great grandpa was fighting the Germans who had a plan to take over that village. In the early days of February 1944, there was sleet on the ground and the roads were becoming muddy. In these difficult weather conditions, my great-grandpa and his comrades were trying to fight off the Germans for three days. It was a very intense fight in which quite a few of his comrades were killed. But the fight was successful, and the Ukrainian army won.

The woman in the food market had been living in that village during the time of that fight. She told my great-grandpa she was hiding in the basement and was only 15 years old.

During the fight, she climbed upstairs to go outside to get some water. When she went outside, she saw four Ukrainian soldiers lying dead in her vegetable garden. She got scared, ran back to the basement, and cried throughout the night.

After the fight was over, she went back outside and witnessed a very young lieutenant giving orders to fire a farewell salute from machine guns in memory of the fallen soldiers while they were put to rest.

Once the woman told her story to my great grandpa, he paused for a second and then asked her if she had recognized him. She took a long look at him but said he looked unfamiliar. After, he told her that the young lieutenant she saw that day was standing in front of her. When he told her that, her facial expression changed, and she started crying. My great-grandpa’s heart sank, his feet became weak, and his eyes became teary. The only thing he could say to her was to weigh the potatoes for him. She took his bags out of his hands and filled them up to the top with potatoes. My great grandpa asked how much he owed, but she refused to take any money from him. She stated that he defended her land, and she would not take a cent from him.

My great grandpa told me that he could not contain his tears when he was coming back home. Remembering the war, the day of the fight, his fallen comrades, and that woman’s story about him made him feel sad and happy at the same time. He realized that life is very precious and should not be taken for granted. He always tells me to enjoy every moment in life and find happiness in everything and everyone I come across.

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